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Mitt Romney can unite party, Haley Barbour contends

Mitt Romney is “finally a real front-runner,’’ said Haley Barbour, who said he voted for former US House speaker Newt Gingrich in his state’s primary, where Rick Santorum won.

Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg/File

Mitt Romney is “finally a real front-runner,’’ said Haley Barbour, who said he voted for former US House speaker Newt Gingrich in his state’s primary, where Rick Santorum won.

WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney is likely to overcome resistance within his party in the next month and rally Republicans to his presidential candidacy, said Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman.

Even after a bitter primary contest, Romney will be able to rally conservatives against President Obama in November, Barbour, a former Mississippi governor, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,’’ airing this weekend.

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Romney is “finally a real front-runner,’’ said Barbour, who said he voted for former US House speaker Newt Gingrich in his state’s primary, where Rick Santorum won.

While Romney’s Mormon religion may be a factor among Southern primary voters who supported other candidates, Barbour said, “There are 25,000 Southern Baptist preachers that will vote for a Mormon before they vote for Obama.’’

Even the flap over an Etch A Sketch comment by Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who likened the campaign’s ability to reset in the fall to a child’s toy, will pale in comparison with the attacks that come from Obama and his labor-union allies in the general election contest, Barbour said.

“They’re going to carpet-bomb him to try to disqualify him or to make him unacceptable, because Obama can’t run on his record,’’ Barbour said.

While “the incumbent president’s always the favorite,’’ Barbour said, “Barack Obama is a great uniter of Republicans’’ and the former Massachusetts governor won’t have to reach out to a member of the party’s conservative wing for his vice-presidential nominee. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

Santorum backtracks on Romney comments

WEST MONROE, La. - Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is taking back his comment that the country might as well reelect President Obama if Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination.

Santorum emphasized Friday that he will support whomever wins the Republican primary.

On Thursday, Santorum argued that Romney and Obama are so similar on the issues that Republicans might just as well vote to give the president a second term instead of casting their ballots for Romney.

Santorum was campaigning at a gun range in northern Louisiana, and as he fired a .45-caliber semiautomatic Colt pistol, a woman in the audience shouted: “Pretend it’s Obama.’’

Santorum was wearing protective ear muffs. He said later that he didn’t hear the remark but denounced it as “absurd.’’

The Secret Service was investigating. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Ethics Committee extends two investigations

WASHINGTON - The House Ethics Committee said Friday it was extending reviews of two members of Congress who have been accused in separate cases of improprieties involving their outside business interests.

The two lawmakers - Representatives Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, and Shelley Berkley, Democrat of Nevada - each predicted that the committee would ultimately find no wrongdoing.

The committee has been investigating Buchanan’s failure to disclose in full 17 outside business interests in his public financial filings. One of the richest members of Congress, Buchanan made a fortune as an auto dealer and has also been involved in land and development deals in Florida.

Berkley, the Nevada Democrat, has positioned herself as a champion of kidney care in Congress at the same time that her husband has worked as one of the top kidney doctors in Nevada.

In 2008, she helped lead efforts to block a move by federal regulators to close Nevada’s only kidney transplant center, which had a $738,000 contract with her husband’s medical practice.

Nevada Republican opponents, in bringing an ethics complaint against Berkley last year, accused her of using her congressional work on the issue to enrich herself through her husband’s medical work. — NEW YORK TIMES

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